6 Ways Quitting Smoking Is Good for Your Heart

One of the most important things you can do to keep your heart healthy — and to keep it beating for as long as possible — is to avoid or quit smoking. If you’re a smoker, kicking the habit can heal the damage nicotine inflicts on your heart and on your longevity in several striking ways.

As important as quitting smoking is to having a healthier heart, finding the most effective ways to quit isn’t easy. Here are six ways quitting smoking benefits your heart health, as well as advice from top smoking cessation experts:

1. Health benefits start right away. “Within hours of quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure drop, and can often revert to a normal range,” says Michael Miller, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine, epidemiology, and public health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and author of the book Heal Your Heart. “On your first anniversary of quitting, you can celebrate the fact that you’ve slashed your heart attack risk by about 50 percent,” adds Dr. Miller.

2. If you’re a woman, quitting has especially important benefits. That’s because women typically have smaller bodies than men, so the ill effects of smoking on women’s hearts tend to be more concentrated and dangerous, says C. Noel Bairey-Merz, MD, director, Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center and of the Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiac Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

There’s another reason why quitting is so essential for women: Female smokers under the age of 60 are more likely than males to experience cholesterol plaque erosion, a potentially deadly blood vessel condition, says Miller. “Woman smokers under the age of 45 are seven times more likely to have heart attacks than male smokers of the same age,” he says.

3. When you quit, you stop exposing your heart to poisonous chemicals. The toxins contained in cigarette smoke include arsenic, benzene, and formaldehyde, to name just a few noted by the American Lung Association. These chemicals can wreak havoc on the blood vessels throughout your body, lessen blood flow to the heart, and damage your heart muscle, says David Harris, MD, a cardiologist and assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Ohio.

4. Quitting smoking doesn’t just benefit your heart — it protects children’s hearts, too. When children are exposed to their parents’ tobacco smoke, kids’ risks for developing plaque in their hearts’ arteries (which can lead to stroke) jumps four times higher than children of non-smokers, according to a study published in the April 2015 issue of the American Heart Association journal Circulation. Even children whose parents try to limit smoking around them are at nearly twice the risk of developing carotid artery plaque than children of non-smokers, researchers found.

5. Putting down the butts reduces your chances of being hospitalized. If you’re a smoker, your risk of being hospitalized for congestive heart failure, diabetic complications, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or angina is nearly twice that of a non-smoker, according to a study published in the May 2015 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence involving 267,000 men and women over the age of 45. The good news is that your risk of being hospitalized for COPD drops within five years after you’ve quit. After 15 years of not smoking, your hospitalization risk goes down for heart failure, diabetic complications, and angina — even for older adults.

6. Stopping smoking lowers your risk for atherosclerosis. Your grandmother may have called this “hardening of the arteries.” In reality, it’s a blood vessel disease caused by body-wide inflammation that thickens and stiffens your arteries, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Recently, researchers who examined data from 6,814 heart-healthy people revealed that smokers have three times the risk of heart disease as people who never smoked. The researchers published their findings in March 2015.

Finding the Help You Need to Quit for Good

“The evidence is clear: the most effective way to quit smoking is to combine behavioural support with medication,” says J. Taylor Hays, MD, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and director of the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center. People who use this multi-treatment approach are three times more likely to become successful quitters than smokers who try going cold turkey, he says.

Start by making an appointment with a specialist certified in tobacco treatment. Dr Hays recommends contacting the Association for Treatment of Tobacco Use and Dependence (ATTUD), where you can find certified, smoking cessation counsellors in your area.

The specialist will likely use a three-pronged approach to help you quit — for good. The plan will probably include behavioural counselling, appropriate medications, and nicotine replacement therapy.

3 Top Tips for Successful Quitters

  • Clean your house of all smoking paraphernalia and don’t let anyone smoke around you, Miller says.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol — it’s the most common reason for relapse.
  • Stress management techniques can help during your first month or so.

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